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Charles: Shabazz will boost 'Soca Warriors'

By Kern De Freitas

The addition of Jamaal Shabazz as a second head coach for the "Soca Warriors" will provide a lift for Hutson Charles and the team as the duo lead Trinidad and Tobago to the 2012 Caribbean Cup in Antigua and Barbuda.

Charles told the Express yesterday that Shabazz's experiences, particularly his stint as coach of Guyana, will help the national squad as they meet Haiti, Dominican Republic and hosts Antigua in Group A, starting against the Haitians on Friday from 6 p.m. (TT time).

Despite the fact that roughly a year ago Shabazz was heading the "Golden Jaguars" team that booted T&T from 2014 World Cup qualifying, Charles said the Caledonia AIA coach's addition to the T&T technical team had not been a problem for his team so far.

"Most of the guys are professionals," Charles said. "Although Jamaal had his work with Guyana, he knocked out the T&T team, I don't think anybody is holding that (against him). What's in the past is in the past; now he's here, (and getting) from everybody full, full, full support.

"At the end of it all, he's still (from) Trinidad and Tobago. Whoever we could get to enhance the T&T team to carry it to the next level we welcome it. He has been a great addition to the team and we all support it."

T&T's 27-man training squad was due to practice late yesterday at UTT's O'Meara campus, after which the technical team was expected to select the final 20-man squad that will make the trip to Antigua. They leave Piarco tomorrow morning.

According to Charles, preparations have been "going pretty good" and there are "high hopes" from the players themselves of a strong performance in the upcoming tournament. He has also tried to keep his charges focused on the on-field issues, and not controversies that have plagued them for the last few years.

"As I tell them before whatever happens off the pitch, it have people to deal with it," Charles related. "We have to do our part and just perform. The better we perform, more doors will open for us in terms of getting that support from our stakeholders. We need to be at our best at all times and these guys take it to heart and really go out there and play."

Where Shabazz's expertise is expected to immediately benefit the national team is his experience in Guyana's 1-0 loss to Haiti last month in CFU (Caribbean Football Union) qualifying.

Said Charles: "The first game is very crucial for us, and we'll be looking for our three points against Haiti. It will be a tough group because it's the finals. Everybody will want to advance. We're going with the same mindset we have against St Kitts in Tobago (in recent CFU qualifying)."

T&T have now missed the knockout stage of the competition the last two times, and thus failed to qualify for the Gold Cup. For Charles and his squad, who have qualified for the tournament despite controversy surrounding the lack of funding for the team and other issues plaguing the T&T Football Federation (TTFF), winning the tournament will do much to benefit T&T football.

"It will help put Trinidad and Tobago within the Caribbean where it's supposed to be," he said. "Our whole focus is to win the Caribbean Cup here, and I think it will do much for Trinidad and Tobago. Our football has been at a low, and I think with the little momentum we have right now, people will come back on board.

"Winning this Caribbean Cup will really get supporters and most of our stakeholders back on board. Even reaching the final will be a big milestone. Winning the Caribbean Cup, that's our main goal. But we're taking it one game at a time," Charles ended.

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